Former Marvel execs launched an ambitious comics universe as the pandemic hit. 7 months later, they have Hollywood in their sights.

AWA presented its comics at last year's New York Comic Con. AWA
Two former Marvel executives, Axel Alonso and Bill Jemas, founded the new comic book company Artists, Writers and Artisans (AWA) together with fandom cochairman Jon Miller last year.
The company launched its first series of comics, "The Resistance," in March, just before the comics ceased distribution due to the pandemic.
Business Insider spoke to Alonso and Jemas about how to navigate a new comic book publisher through the pandemic, how it works, and what to expect from its future.
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Two former Marvel executives, Axel Alonso and Bill Jemas, stepped into 2020 expecting to whip a new comic book universe into high gear. Not only did they have decades of experience in the industry, they also had financial support from major investors such as James Murdoch, the son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
But it wasn't long before they ran into a complication. Her new company, Artists, Writers and Artisans (AWA) debuted her first series in March. Five days after its release, comics ceased distribution and stores across the country closed due to the pandemic.
This first series, AWA's "The Resistance," by writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Mike Deodato Jr., happened to be about a virus that kills millions around the world but gives thousands of other superpowers. It is intended to establish the AWA's "shared universe", similar to that of Marvel and DC, in which characters can live and interact with each other in the same universe.
Shutting down the distribution was painful for AWA.
"Knowing that 'The Resistance' was on the racks in the comic book stores and people couldn't get it was a nightmare," Alonso said.
But he wouldn't describe the pandemic as a setback for the company.
While comic distribution was discontinued, AWA was releasing "The Resistance" as a free digital comic to raise awareness for the series when the comic book closure ended in May and readers returned to stores.
"You have to look where there is a chance of being discovered in a crisis," said Alonso. "People liked it, and when the stores reopened they flew off the shelves. Comic book readers are more completeers. Just because they read it online doesn't stop them from buying the comic or graphic novel."
Alonso has experience seeing opportunity in crisis after starting AWA after stepping down as Marvel's editor-in-chief during a 2017 sales decline.
He also believes that AWA's vision of a new business model for comics, where risk and benefit are shared between creator and publisher, will entice creators into building a comics universe to compete with heavyweights Marvel and DC.
Alonso's Marvel exit was the catalyst for AWA
Alonso knows the irony that AWA's first series was about a pandemic, but that fits with one of his roles for the company: reflecting on the real world that emerged from his experience at Marvel.
Alonso was editor-in-chief from 2011 when Marvel introduced bold and diverse new characters like Miles Morales, a biracial Spider-Man. When sales fell in 2017, Alonso was canceled.
"One of my goals was to introduce more diversity," Alonso said of Marvel. "It deeply offended some longtime fans. But seeing Miles Morales on the big screen [in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse] confirmed it. It showed that being up to date is a good thing It's a stupid way Now I start the day looking at a blank canvas, you have to take risks, walk with your gut and write about the world as it is.
He was pondering his next move in late 2018 when he received a call from Jemas, another comic book veteran.
Jemas, the former president of Marvel Comics, who is often credited with taking the company out of bankruptcy in the early 2000s, was looking for a new company and wanted Alonso by his side. Jemas had previously promoted Alonso for DC's Marvel in 2000.
Jemas called Alonso's departure from Marvel the spark for AWA.
"Axel is the best he can," Jemas told Business Insider.
These two former Marvel executives teamed up with Jon Miller, the cochairman of the entertainment website Fandom, for a comic book company at the intersection of Titanic publishers like Marvel and DC and publishers like Image. Jemas serves as CEO, Alonso as Creative Chief and Miller as Chairman of the Board.
"In comics, you can either go to Marvel or DC and get a page rate but own nothing, or Option B is owned by the creator," Alonso said. “You can do something original that you own and bring to market and hope it will find an audience. If you're lucky and your book becomes the next Walking Dead, you will have stable income. If not, you can You don't make a lot of money there. "
AWA aims to reduce the risks to creators of starting a comic book owned by the creator by guaranteeing them a financial stake in the books. With Marvel or DC, the developers take little risk, but do not own an IP. With a publisher like Image, they own their IP but take on most of the financial risk. AWA aims to share the risk between the author and the publisher.
"We plan each series to have positive cash flow, but our publishing business doesn't cover our overheads," said Jemas. "We don't expect it until we have a solid backlist of graphic novels and hardcover books."
Jemas said sales were higher than forecast. The first issue of "The Resistance" landed at # 65 on Comichron's best-selling comics for March, a list dominated by much larger publishers, Marvel and DC, with more than 26,000 copies sold.
Alonso said the AWA's model allows developers "to bet on themselves without putting anything at risk".
That drew AWA's Year Zero and Devil's Highway writer Benjamin Percy to AWA. Known for DC comics like "Green Arrow" and currently Marvel's "Wolverine", Percy was allowed to experiment with AWA.
"Writing for DC and Marvel is a privilege and a pleasure, of course, but it comes with limitations as you are often the steward of a character that has been around for decades," Percy told Business Insider.
A group of AWA characters. AWA / Mike Deodato Jr.
Hollywood is in the sights of AWA
At a time when Hollywood is increasingly seeking new intellectual property rights, AWA's mission attracted large investors.
These include the production company Sister, founded by Elisabeth Murdoch (Rupert's daughter) and Stacey Snider, the former chairman and managing director of Fox's film studio; James Murdoch, the son of Rupert, who has distanced himself from his father's media empire, which includes Fox News and News Corp; and venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners.
"There is currently an arms race for great content with Netflix Plus between Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Disney," Alex Taussig, partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, told the Wall Street Journal last year.
Both Sister and James Murdoch have invested at least $ 5 million in the company, according to the WSJ. Miller, the third AWA founder who is also a former digital chief at News Corp, made Murdoch's investment easier, WSJ said.
"[James] Murdoch knows comics and respects our vision," said Alonso. "He thought it was great that we empowered the creators and gave them skin in the game. He liked that the creators were invested in the game and he saw potential in it."
The goal is to move to Hollywood at some point and discussions have taken place, Jemas and Percy said, but they did not reveal any further details.
"Hollywood is hungry for intellectual property," said Percy. "One of the questions that you are always faced with at studios is, 'What is it like?' You show them a comic and the whole project is already storyboarded. "
The comics will always come first, said Alonso.
"Our goal is to create a reputable publisher first," he said. "We have to do comics first. I'm not a director, screenwriter or showrunner. I do comics. But I want to make comics that people want to see on screen."
But Alonso also noted, “Nobody makes comics with the words, 'I hope we end up right here.'” Once the comic universe is strong enough, it's inevitable that AWA will try to make the leap to film and television.
The future plans for these comics?
Alonso said the second volume of "The Resistance" has already been written and is being drawn. He compared the books to the TV seasons, which means that they will be told in different volumes but will be one ongoing story. Readers can expect work by well-known artists such as Reginald Hudlin, Garth Ennis and Frank Cho, all of whom are on the company's creative board.
"The most important rule when talking to and among investors is to be patient," said Alonso.
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